Protests in Puerto Rico respond to a nationwide dilemma and could create a modern model for making US democracy work, writes Margaret Valenti.

In the wake of the news of Governor Rosselló’s involvement in a group chat that sent derogatory and insensitive messages about Puerto Rican citizens, celebrities, and politicians, massive protests sparked across the island that led to the denouncing of Rosselló by his own party. Rosselló will not run for another term either. 

Over the past couple of weeks, the people of Puerto Rico joined together in protest against the current governor, Ricardo Rosselló, along with several key members of his administration. The protests came after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism posted texts from a group chat between Rosselló and his inner circle that contained homophobic comments recarding Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin and misogynistic comments regarding San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. 

The texts also included jokes about the deaths resulting from Hurricane Maria, a situation that was poorly handled by Rosselló’s administration. Despite the massive protests in the wake of the revelation of these messages, Rosselló still refuses to resign at the requests and largely peaceful protests of his constituents. 

The situation in Puerto Rico is easily comparable to a dilemma experienced in the United States with the current President. Donald Trump came under similar fire due to his lack of will to properly respond to Hurricane Maria, his past and current misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic behavior, comments, and tweets, and criminal behavior that have yet to produce any significant concern from the President himself despite the public outcries over his actions. 

His comments also suggest that he would be willing to undermine the next election by accepting dirt on his opponents from forgein governments. It is also widely believed that he will not accept the 2020 election results if they are not in his favor. Both of these last two assertions are a danger to democracy as they threaten the belief that the politics of a country are driven by its citizens. 

In a sense, what is happening in Puerto Rico could be a test of wills in the United States of who can win against a man who refuses to listen to reason and actively works against democracy. While the Governor’s text group is concerning, his unwillingness to step aside amidst peaceful protests is a clear sign that the people of Puerto Rico are not satisfied with their leader. Puerto Rico is still considered a territory and not a US state, but the people are still citizens of the United States and if they can accomplish getting Rosselló to resign, it may mean that there is hope for Donald Trump’s eventual removal from office by reelection or, however unlikely, impeachment. 

There is real question being tested in the United States in the wake of the protests in Puerto Rico; is the power of the people as powerful as democracy claims it to be? Or will Donald Trump win the next election and continue to undermine and unlawfully participate in US democracy?

Trump’s Support of Rosselló

In a tweet thread, Trump did say that the people of Puerto Rico are “great.” However, he chose to preface the tweet by commenting that Rosselló “is under siege” and yet again attacked the Mayor of San Juan calling her (another woman of color) “despicable and incompetent.” He also claims that all of the money sent to Puerto Rico for relief after Hurricane Maria was squandered away and mysteriously disappeared. 

The tweet is quite contradictory, since he tweets that the Governor of Puerto Rico is being unfairly treated, without using Rosselló’s name, and then goes on to say that the Government in Puerto Rico is corrupt. The bigger concern is his refusal to side with the 400,000 people protesting in Puerto Rico, representing 13% of Puerto Rico’s population of three million, and instead siding with a Governor who participated in misogynistic, homophobic, and highly insensitive conversations between himself and his innercircle. 

However, the President’s support for Rosselló should not come as a surprise considering his own actions, words, and tweets. The President’s tweets do not threaten democracy, but his actions, words, and tweets in response to dissent and an unwillingness to participate lawfully in the democracy of the United States are threatening actions in and of themselves. 

Clearly, the two leaders, Rosselló and Trump, are, in a sense, kindred spirits, dealing with the same issues in both of their administrations and similar accusations. Their refusal to listen to their constituents is terribly disappointing for the future of democracy in the United States. Certainly, Rosselló and Trump are allowed to have their own opinions about people, but there are very clear instances where they both take things too far, offending the very people that they were chosen to represent. 

The actions taken and words used under the administrations of both leaders have at the very least shown bad judgement and, in the worst case, shown the true feelings of these leaders towards those who have put them in office in the first place. While these protests are occurring for different reasons, they are a symptom of the same problem: leaders who do not listen to or respect their constituents.

There are still a lot of politicians and citizens who support the United States President despite his actions, determining that they are not in any way derogatory towards his constituents. Yet, Trump’s disapproval ratings have been some of the highest recorded for any sitting US President. 

Make Democracy Work

The undermining of democracy in the cases of both Trump and Rosselló are causes for serious concern, though Rosselló did say that he does not plan to run for another term and his own party denounced his actions, something that has not happened in regard to Trump, yet. Will Trump ever reach that point? It is unclear. His actions and the actions of his administration, his tweets, and his words have received little response from Democrats or Republicans in efforts to curb his worst impulses despite the OP ED in the New York Times claiming the exact opposite last September written from a member of Trump’s inner circle. 

Protests across the United States do not yet rise to the levels that are seen in Puerto Rico. Still, there is enough open dissent for the sitting President that any rationally minded person who respects democracy should consider changing his behavior. At the very least, the President should recognize that there is something about his administration and his policies that is out of sync with the current values of many of the people in the United States. 

In the United States, there is a sense that despite who the President is, you have to respect the office and that person regardless of your opinion. Publicly, there is less of a sense of that attitude in the age of the Trump administration. The truth is that most politicians are more unwilling to listen to their constituents than Ricardo Rosselló, which seems shocking in a country that claims to be one of the greatest Democracies in the world. However, according to The Economist, the United States of America is not one of the top fifteen democracies in the world. Currently, the United States of America is considered a “flawed democracy.” 

What happens in response to these massive protests in Puerto Rico is important in regard to modeling what could happen on a national scale. The nation could be a full democracy since it already has most of the pieces to the puzzle, it just needs a few more to create a full picture and the right person to connect the pieces. Who that person is, or if they will ever come, is yet to be seen. 

Everyone thinks that they have a solution to the problem. The current division in opinion in regard to what “makes America great” is not helping to make a better democracy for the people, of the people, or by the people. The mission of the people of Puerto Rico should be the mission of United States citizens as a whole; stop fighting over politics and show support only for those politicians who respect and listen to their constituents.

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.